PCT Journal: Days 144-154 (NorCal Pt. I)

Day 144

South Lake Tahoe, CA/Hitch to Echo Lake/Lake Aloha

Daily Mileage: 6.1

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1098.4 NoBo

We slept in until 9 am, which felt wonderful. Somehow I was still tired, but managed to get up with the motivation of breakfast across the street. I stuffed myself full of french toast, eggs, and bacon at Heidi’s Pancake House. Afterward, we went grocery shopping at Safeway for the next stretch.

We relaxed in the room a little longer until we had to check out, then walked to the post office for Steel Toe to pick up his new Altras. Since only the new version was offered in his size he was worried they wouldn’t fit, but they seemed to do the trick. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Izzy’s Burger Spa, which was filling, but delicious. Then we attempted to hitch to at least the “Y,” a well known junction in the middle of town that would eventually get us South to the trail.

We were quickly picked up by an older man who lived in the area and knew about the trail. When I told him I was from Connecticut, he mentioned he would be vacationing in New England this Fall for the foliage. I told him he wouldn’t be disappointed. Once we were dropped off, we went to Starbucks to get one last coffee and charge our phones. An hour later, we attempted to hitch again but this time to the trail.

Within fifteen minutes we were picked up by a young man who lived near Echo Lake, just where we were trying to get to. He was happy to drive past the area he lived in and brought us all the way to the lake, even though he’d be stuck in traffic on his way back. There were tons of cars parked near the lake and people were walking all over. Being at the lake meant we skipped a mile or so of the trail, but we were fine with it considering how much we walked in town.

We threw on our gaiters and shoes and started hiking. We passed by many day hikers coming from Lake Aloha, where we were headed. After a two mile climb, we were getting close. We did accidentally begin to take another trail and had to bushwhack back to the PCT, but it didn’t take up too much time. We made it to the lake just before dark and pitched the tent among the big rocks.

Multiple people were camping nearby, all scattered alongside the lake. The scenery was very different than I expected, almost alpine-like with more barren rock than greenery. We decided to forego the rain fly tonight and camp under the stars. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too chilly.

Day 145

Lake Aloha to Mile 1122.1

Daily Mileage: 23.7

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1122.1 NoBo

Last night was a rough one. The stars were beautiful, but I only know that because I barely slept. My stomach ached for hours, likely from the rich food in town and the fast food we packed out. And once that ordeal was over with and I was feeling better, my jaw was aching from clenching my teeth while sleeping. It’s a habit I haven’t done in a while, but tends to occur when I’m stressed.

I eventually got some sleep, but the morning came too soon. The lake was beautiful as the sun was rising. We hiked past many other backpackers enjoying the morning at their campsites. We heard a few dogs barking here and there, one who even ran up to us and began growling. I wasn’t a huge fan of that, but thankfully the owner was able to calm him down and apologized.

Early on in the day we began the ascent to Dicks Pass. Thankfully, it wasn’t as long or hard as rumors made it out to be. We were able to see Lake Aloha where we camped the night before as well as Dicks Lake, where we were now headed. We ate lunch near Middle Velma Lake and watched as more and more hikers passed by. I ate my typical tuna, mayo, and Fritos, but was still hungry.

Due to the holiday weekend, we saw more hikers than we were used to. The dogs were the highlight of my day. We counted eleven and most of them were friendly. The day passed by quickly as we hiked downhill and before we knew it, we made it to one of the water sources near a tentsite. We grabbed water for the morning and rinsed off before indulging in dinner. Annie’s mac and cheese was on the menu for me tonight, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Day 146

Mile 1122.1 to Mile 1146.6

Daily Mileage: 24.5

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1146.6 NoBo

We started the day off with a climb. We reached a trailhead in the early morning and continued upward to a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe. Before we diverted from the Tahoe Rim Trail that we were following since Echo Lake, the majority of people we saw were trail running. Some told us they were prepping for the Tahoe 200, which is less than a week away.

I was trail master today, which meant being in charge of the map. Steel Toe claims I tried to kill him when we missed the last water source for 9 miles. What really happened was that we had an argument and therefore I was distracted. I still take full responsibility though. I was able to get us to the next source alive, which is what counts in my mind. Steel Toe wasn’t feeling his best so I took charge of filtering water and let him relax during lunch.

We still had at least 10 miles ahead of us, including two large climbs, so we cameled up and continued on. I think Steel Toe drank about three liters of water and somehow didn’t get sick. As we were reaching the top of the first climb, we noticed an odd mushroom like cloud of smoke in the sky to the West. We discussed the various scenarios for the next half hour but came to the conclusion that we were likely going to live today.

We were hoping to come across water going up the second climb and thankfully the source wasn’t dry. We planned on eating dinner at the water, but there were thousands of tiny caterpillars everywhere so we moved on. We reached the top of Tinker Knob and had an amazing view of the surrounding sky and mountains. All sorts of colors were casted among the horizon due to the sun setting behind the cloud of smoke. A mile or so later, we set up camp underneath a few large trees that helped to block the wind. Dinner was beneath our headlamps, but we managed and went to sleep soon after thinking about our day in town soon to come.

Day 147

Mile 1146.6 to Donner Pass/Hitch to Truckee, CA

Daily Mileage: 6.8

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1153.4 NoBo

I woke up to a deflated pad, once again. I’m really hoping that there’s not another hole in it or that the valve is leaking. I’m pretty sure the guy at the warranty department of Cascade Designs is sick of me.

We started breaking down camp while it was still dark out. We figured it would be pretty to hike while the sun was rising. As it rose over the mountains, it quickly warmed us up. We hiked almost 7 miles to Highway 40 and made it there around 9 am. It only took about ten minutes before a young man named Bill living near the pass picked us up and took us into the historic downtown where he worked. We stopped at a coffee shop on the way and got to know about the area through Bill’s eyes. He graciously offered for us to stay at his place with his fiancé and himself. We were very thankful, but knew it would be best to stay in town to get our chores done.

Our first order of business when we arrived was breakfast. We checked out Marty’s Cafe where we both enjoyed a large bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. We then window shopped a bit before going to Alibi Ale Works for a flight of beer. They had a great variety on tap and I was really pleased with one of their sours. While walking around, we met a guy who just completed hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail. He had all sorts of questions about thru-hiking a long trail and even offered to give us his leftover food and fuel cans.

We walked about a mile to the other side of town to check out Tahoe Mountain Sports so I could exchange my pair of Darn Tough socks that had holes in them. Afterward, we headed toward the Inn at Truckee to get a room and bumped into another thru-hiker we met a few days ago that finished the PCT but was hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail. His friend that he was staying with mentioned that he and his girlfriend would be happy to host us, but again they lived a few miles outside of town. We couldn’t believe this was our second offer and felt bad that we couldn’t take him up on it.

As we booked a room at the Inn, we told ourselves that if we’re ever offered a place to stay in the future, we’ll take advantage of it. We took much needed showers and did some laundry before heading back out to shop for our resupply and grab food for later.

The rest of the night consisted of backflushing my water filter, washing my pot, finding and patching the hole in my sleeping pad, and sewing holes in my gaiters and long sleeve shirt. Steel Toe and I enjoyed a movie on the TV while snacking on tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa before jumping in the hot tub for a few minutes. It was nice to eventually lay down in a comfortable bed and rest my head on an actual pillow.

Day 148

Donner Pass to Mile 1155.8

Daily Mileage: 2.4

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1155.8 NoBo

It felt great to sleep in and stretch out in a nice big bed. We walked next door to Truckee Bagel Co. where an older black lab was laying on the bench outside to greet us. We took our breakfast sandwiches back to the room and I enjoyed a free cup of coffee from the lobby.

After checking out, we walked a few minutes back to the plaza where the outdoor retailer was to peruse one more time and grab last minute groceries from Safeway. Panda Express was our lunch spot and of course I walked away uncomfortably full.

Just as we were about to try hitching back to the trail, Steel Toe received an email from his future job that required he print and sign a few forms, so we turned back around and headed toward the public library. Once that was completed, we walked toward the West side of town and attempted to hitch. After twenty minutes with no luck, we kept walking. I was pretty discouraged. It’s hard not to get offended when dozens of cars pass you by and it’s clear that you’re hiking.

Within a few minutes, as we were crossing a highway off ramp, a man in a truck stopped at the stop sign and yelled out to ask if we needed a ride to the trail. Our eyes lit up and we quickly ran over and jumped in the truck. He drove us up the hill and dropped us off at the Donner Pass Ski Ranch right next to the trail. We decided to check it out and although I was still a bit full, I ordered a piece of homemade strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream. By far the best decision I made all day.

After we filled our bellies again, we jumped on the trail and only hiked a few miles before calling it a day. It was later than we expected, so we figured we would get in more miles tomorrow. We watched an episode of Mr. Robot in the tent while listening to the helicopters fly by ahead tending to the nearby fires.

Day 149

Mile 1155.8 to Mile 1179.9

Daily Mileage: 24.1

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1179.9 NoBo

We opted to delay breakfast until we made it to Highway 80, just a few miles ahead. There were restrooms and picnic tables, so we ate our bagels like civilized people. I only had a twenty dollar bill for the vending machine, but a man gave me two dollars when I asked if he had change for my twenty. So we were able to split a Dr. Pepper over breakfast.

The terrain was mild and there was a constant breeze so we weren’t too fatigued while hiking. My feet began hurting more than usual though, especially so early on. I attributed it to my shoes. They’re pushing their lifetime of 500 miles, but I get a new pair in Sierra City, the next town. Steel Toe and I each zoned out while listening to the podcasts we downloaded in town. I enjoyed a few episodes of Criminal and In The Dark, which I highly suggest if you‘re interested in the crime genre.

The scenery wasn’t anything to write home about, so I mostly kept my head down and concentrated on moving forward. Thankfully the terrain was forgiving, but the loose ground and pine leaves created a constant cloud of dirt each time you took a step. I watched as Steel Toe hiked in front of me, and he looked just like the character Pig Pen from Peanuts.

We decided to set up camp when we reached the last water source we would come to today. The trail has been quiet considering we only saw four other hikers, so no one was around. We rinsed off, ate dinner, and enjoyed an episode of Mr. Robot before bed.

Day 150

Mile 1179.9 to Hwy 49/Sierra City, CA

Daily Mileage: 15.5

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1195.4 NoBo

The sun is rising later in the morning now and making it even more difficult to wake up. We began hiking in the cold until the air eventually warmed up. Snack and lunch time flew by with our minds being focused on getting to Sierra City. I listened to some music and another episode of In The Dark. Steel Toe and I conversed about politics and world news. We even saw a baby rattlesnake on our descent toward the highway.

Before we knew it, we made it to Highway 49. I put my thumb up as we walked toward town and within minutes an older man picked us up and drove us East. When we arrived in town we were greeted by a few southbound thru-hikers outside of the Sierra Country Store. We grabbed a few sodas and the woman behind us offered to pay when she realized we were thru-hiking. We then headed over to the local church. They allow thru-hikers to camp in their yard for free and right next door are public restrooms to shower. Another thru-hiker named Snowman told us about how the people who own the church may not allow camping in the future due to previous thru-hikers not cleaning up after themselves and being rowdy.

The public showers were free, but the water was absolutely freezing. Pressing the button allowed for thirty seconds of pure ice water to shower down on me. I cleaned up as well as I could and rinsed the clothes I hiked in. Steel Toe and I wore our wet clothes around in the sun until they dried sufficiently. We headed back over to the Country Store and split a strawberry milkshake, waffle fries, and a one pound cheeseburger called the Gutbuster. I’m so glad I didn’t attempt to eat one by myself because I was full enough as it was.

We hung around outside afterward utilizing the WiFi since there was no service in town. We chatted with Snowman, Alpine Pat 1000, No Pants, and Mini Wheat as we sorted through the boxes our parents sent. I finally received my new shoes after about 500 miles!

As the day wound down, we indulged in more sugary drinks and ate a few fruit cups and a can of mandarin oranges for dinner. We were still so full from our large lunch earlier on. Just as it started getting dark outside, we ventured over to The Buckhorn Bar for a few beers, Bailey’s on the rocks, and a hot chocolate. Soon after, we walked back to the tent and relaxed as we watched an episode of Mr. Robot.

Day 151

Sierra City, CA to Mile 1208.4

Daily Mileage: 13

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1208.4 NoBo

I woke up in the middle of the night to loud crunching on the leaves just behind our heads. I knew there was a fence, but it had large holes and I couldn’t remember how tall it was. I nudged Steel Toe and he immediately sat up to listen to the same noise. Within seconds he let out a large roar to scare away whatever it was. Every time we have one of these encounters, my heart races and before I know it I’m covered in sweat.

It took me a while to fall back asleep, but I eventually did. When we woke up around 7:30 no one else was in the yard. The other thru-hikers must have left town early in the morning. We decided we were going to leave no later than noon. We walked down the road to Herrington’s, where we ate french toast and chicken fried steak. Then we hung outside of the Country Store once again with AP 1000 to charge our phones and use the WiFi.

I arranged for my other sleeping pad that I have at home to be sent to one of our next locations since my current Thermarest NeoAir XLite pad has popped again. I’ll go through the warranty process to have it fixed, but I just don’t want to deal with durability issues any longer while on the trail. So instead I’ll use my Klymit pad for the remaining month and a half. It’s a tad bit heavier, but likely more durable.

Steel Toe and I split another Gutbuster and curly fries from the Country Store just before leaving town. The cook who was also working the day before gave us an extra vanilla milkshake on the house. He came outside looking for us while singing Afternoon Delight.

We said our goodbyes to the other thru-hikers and started road walking toward the trail. I threw my thumb up for the cars headed in our direction and we quickly got a hitch from a young guy passing through.

Hiking North we had a long, exposed climb. It was beautiful as we could see the rocky cliffs above us and Sierra City far below, but the sun was brutal. We were parched by the time we made it 7 miles to the water. We cameled up with three liters of water each since we planned on taking the old PCT route instead of the new route, and water was limited. The new trail was built so that the old one could allow mountain bikes in addition to foot traffic.

We only hiked a few more miles before finding a flat spot at the top of one of the peaks. We were sheltered from the wind but also had an amazing view of the Sierra Buttes.

Day 152

Mile 1208.4 to Mile 1235.5

Daily Mileage: 27.1

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1235.5 NoBo

The alarm went off three times this morning. We finally started getting ready around 6:15 am. The sun was rising and the sky was painted with pink and oranges hues. It was unusually warm for it being so early.

After a few miles, we made it to the junction for the original PCT. We cut off a few miles by taking the old route, so the actual daily mileage is likely a bit lower than written above. The scenery was beautiful, but honestly a little bland compared to what we’ve experienced before. You can tell Fall is around the corner, with orange pine leaves all over the trail and green plants on the ground turning yellow.

Water is more scarce than it has been in the past so we’ve been paying careful attention. Seasonal sources are mostly dry, and sometimes even reliable sources are as well. We’ve seen about twenty southbound thru-hikers today though, so it’s easy to ask around to gain more information.

After we had to hike downhill a quarter mile to one of the water sources and then back up, I was mentally done for the day. It was 4:30 pm and I just wanted to be in camp. My head started aching, either due to caffeine withdrawals since I haven’t had coffee on trail for the past week, or dehydration. Either way, I went into robot mode for the last 4 miles. We found a spot in the woods just off of the trail with a view to the North. We enjoyed dinner while finishing the episode of Mr. Robot we started at lunch and then got ready for bed.

It’s 7:30 now and light is fading. One more full day tomorrow and then no more than 10 miles the next morning before we make it to Quincy.

Day 153

Mile 1235.5 to Mile 1258.9

Daily Mileage: 23.4

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1258.9 NoBo

I woke up with the same headache. I took an Aleve with my oatmeal and tea and prayed for it to go away. Up until lunch, Steel Toe and I listened to Criminal. There weren’t many people on the trail, so we rested my phone on the top of my pack as we played it aloud.

The rest of the day was a blur. The gnats were horrible and of course we sent our bug nets home a few weeks ago. I attempted to cover my nose and mouth with my buff, but breathing wasn’t the easiest as we were hiking uphill. Sunglasses helped a little, but mine are so scratched that they’re difficult to see out of.

We ate lunch by a dirt road that looked to be rarely used. We watched part of another Mr. Robot episode and let me tell you, it’s getting good. Lunch is always over too soon. A half hour later we were back up again and hiking to the next checkpoint. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over and to arrive at camp. I was tired and unmotivated, and the bugs weren’t helping.

About 23 miles later, we found a spot right off trail. I should mention we did pass another rattlesnake, this one slightly bigger than the last. We almost finished the long climb we’ve been tackling. The rest can wait until the morning. I boiled water for dinner and then it happened to fall off the stove, spilling everywhere, so we didn’t eat until after attempt number two. We listened to another Criminal episode as we ate and then finished watching the episode of Mr. Robot that we started earlier. It was an early night, but we planned on waking up at a decent hour to get into town before noon.

Day 154

Mile 1258.9 to Bucks Lake Rd/Hitch to Quincy, CA

Daily Mileage: 9

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1267.9 NoBo

I heard some rustling nearby last night but I wasn’t too alarmed. I swore that one time I was woken up by a similar sound to a dog shaking off after a bath. We got ready while it was still dark out and had to use our headlamps for a few minutes. It was perfect timing when we made it to the peak and caught the sunrise.

Nine miles later and we made it to Bucks Lake Road. The only people around were forest service workers cutting down trees nearby. The first car we saw was dropping off thru-hikers, so we didn’t put our thumbs up thinking they would know we were trying to get to town, but they didn’t stop on their way back. After one other car didn’t stop for us, we started walking toward town.

Quincy was 18 miles away but we figured we’d walk a few miles closer, past more roads to try to increase our odds of traffic passing by. About one mile later we were picked up by a man from Quincy who was on his way back from work. He dropped us off at the Gold Pan Lodge where we booked a room for the night. The owner and her daughter were very welcoming, and they even have a DVD collection where you can rent movies for free to bring back to your room.

We got a quick bite to eat at Jeffery’s Pub and Grub while our room was being cleaned. We met a man who told us about how he hiked the trail in 1995 and he was even about to offer us a place to stay before he realized we already booked a room at the lodge. After we checked in, we took showers and hand washed our clothes in the sink since there isn’t a laundromat in town. The amount of dirt that drains out of our socks is almost nauseating. Hand washing doesn’t do our clothes justice, but it’s better than nothing.

After a few hours of relaxing, we picked up our resupply and food for dinner at Safeway. We also stopped by the local outdoor retailer on the way back to the lodge. The rest of the night consisted of watching movies, such as The Kingdom and Body of Lies. We later supplemented our dinner with ice cream from the gas station next door. As I lay here in bed I can feel my stomach rumble from the town food today.

One thought on “PCT Journal: Days 144-154 (NorCal Pt. I)

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